CEO, New Zealand Film Commission
Bachelor of Communication (Film Production and Film Studies), 1981/ Graduate Diploma in Education, 1992
A film buff from an early age, 2019 UTS Alumni Award recipient Annabelle Sheehan was raised on whatever gems free-to-air TV had to offer in the 1970s — mostly relics from Hollywood’s golden age, featuring the likes of Fred Astaire, Cary Grant and Shirley Temple. Annabelle laughs and admits;
I used to say a misspent youth is the best way you can prepare for a film career.
After graduating from UTS, Sheehan went into post-production, working on films such as Mad Max 2, Dead Calm and The Piano. Next, she took up academic roles, serving as a department head at the Australian Film Television and Radio School. Then she reinvented herself once more, this time as a talent agent, representing Cate Blanchett and Ben Mendelsohn as CEO of RGM Artist Group.
My interest in film was never just about making films, but in thinking about them," she says of her diverse career. “UTS taught me to look at the industry from a big, broad perspective. It was strong on analysing social structures, feminism and communications theory — things I still think about today.
In 2018, after serving as CEO of the South Australian Film Corporation where she brought in initiatives and funding for indigenous and female-lead projects, Sheehan took on her current role: CEO of the New Zealand Film Commission.
Over the next year, she’s determined to boost gender equality and get more Māori stories on the big screen.
Sheehan is known for her pragmatism — a product, she says, of a decade in the fast-paced world of a talent agency.
I’m interested in processes - that goes back to my communications degree - but we also have to ensure things happen,” she says. "We have to spend money, encourage filmmakers, and partner with the people for whom it really matters.
What’s been a highlight of your career?
Being a talent agent was fantastic. I worked with some wonderful writers, directors and actors, and when they’re having great success, you feel really privileged to be part of that.
What’s it like to operate in such a male-dominated field?
I’ve had some great male mentors, as well as women. But as a leader, I’ve noticed that women have a very narrow band of acceptable behaviour; to influence and impact, while maintaining respect, we have to tread carefully.
And what have you been watching lately?
Come to Daddy and Hotel Mumbai — two very different films!
Who are your role models?
“People I worked with in the ’80s and ’90s, including directors George Miller and Jane Campion, producers Doug Mitchell and Jan Chapman, and editor Lee Smith.”
Do you have a secret skill?
“I used to play violin in an all-girl punk band called Friction while I was at UTS.”
This article was originally published in the Spring 2019 edition of Tower magazine, published by UTS Advancement.